As I descended a steep trail in Mount Wells Regional Park, the overlook view of Victoria, B.C., still imprinting itself on my memory, a non-sequitur question snagged me surer than a tree root lurking underfoot.
If a group of engineers and a group of environmental writers were meeting separately to discuss the idea of sustainability, would they be talking about the same thing?
I nearly fell on my BlackBerry. Yet I’ve asked the question, or a variation thereof, a hundred times since that day in June 2009. My two lives had briefly converged on Vancouver Island for the biennial ASLE conference. I was there taking a week of vacation from my job as director of Engineering Communications at Iowa State University. Although a veteran ASLE presenter of personal essays (Kalamazoo, Flagstaff, Eugene), the job was a new one and I feared displacement. Would I be regarded as a professional flak going undercover among a community of writers and teachers?
Then Greg Garrard, speaking on the topic of ecocriticism, drove home this point: environmental literature, and the analysis of such literature, required a firm factual grounding in science. Otherwise, relevance would be at risk, and only relevance would succeed in penetrating the public consciousness.
Now, most engineers will tell you that they are the ones who put science to work by turning theories into practice, so when it comes to relevance, their advances are the ones that change our lives. But maybe we’ve reached a point where we need to move beyond a debate about the relevance of writers, scientists, and engineers. This is a time to find resonance. Lyrical explorations of landscape and research at a biochar pilot plant just might be getting us to the same place.
As a writer, and as a communicator for engineering, I hold out hope that it will be a better place.